NanoSail-D Caught on Video

When you have an automated video camera, it’s amazing what you can pick up in the night sky. Dr. Robert Suggs used the Automated Lunar and Meteor Observatory at Marshall Space Flight Center to catch NanoSail-D on video as it slipped across the sky back on March 2nd, 2011. This video is from the small finder camera for the observatory and the solar sail appears just how it would be seen by the naked eye. The NanoSail-D twitter feed said that this video is actually upside down. “I am actually sailing out of the trees and higher into the night sky,” the solar sail Tweeted. The same facility also captured images of NanoSail-d with 80mm and 14″ telescopes.

NanoSail-D won’t be visible for very much longer, just a couple of weeks or less until it will burn up in the atmosphere. See our previous article on how to observe NanoSail-D before it de-orbits.

Source: NanoSail-D website

Last & Best Chances to See NanoSail-D

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Over the next few weeks, skywatchers will have excellent viewing opportunities for the NanoSail-D solar sail.

The satellite is coming to the end of its 95-day mission to test the viability of de-orbiting decommissioned satellites or space debris. NanoSail-D is now de-orbiting and slowly losing altitude in the Earths thin upper atmosphere.

As the satellite descends, viewing opportunities will improve.

To see NanoSail-D pass over, you will need to know exactly when it will be visible from your location. To do this, go to Heavens-above.com or Spaceweather.com where star charts with times and pass details will be displayed after you enter your observing site.

Once you know the time and location in the sky of the pass of the satellite, make sure you are able to get a good view of the part of the sky where the satellite due to appear. Give yourself plenty of time, go outside and get ready. I always set a 30 second reminder on my watch or cell phone, so I don’t have to fumble around or guess the time.

To enjoy the NanoSail-D passes:

• Make sure you know the right place in the sky and the time of the pass, by checking on the web.
• Make sure you will be able to get a clear view of it from your viewing location.
• Set an alarm or get ready for the pass as it only lasts a few seconds.
• NASA expects NanoSail-D to stay in orbit through May 2011.
• If you are an astrophotographer, don’t forget, NASA and SpaceWeather.com are having an imaging contest of NanoSail-D. Find out more here.
• Most of all, get your friends and family outside with you to watch NanoSail-D and enjoy!

Artist concept of Nanosail-D in Earth orbit. Credit: NASA

How To See NanoSail-D From Your Own Backyard

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The night sky has many wonderful objects to look at on a clear evening, including many man-made satellites, and the always impressive International Space Station (ISS). Now there’s a new addition to these artificial delights: the first ever solar sail to orbit the Earth, NASA’s Nanaosail-D Satellite. Want to know how you can see it?

The 10m x 10m reflective sail is designed to act like a brake and gradually create drag in the upper atmosphere, slowly pulling a satellite down and de-orbiting it at the end of its working life. Nanosail-D is testing the potential of this technology to reduce space junk and debris.

NanoSail D. Image credit NASA

The satellite has a huge reflective sail and could potentially be many times brighter than the planet Venus when it catches a glint from the Sun. Unlike the International Space Station (ISS) and other satellites, the sail will not be visible when it is directly above us as we will be looking at it edge on, It will be more visible when closer to the horizon.

The Nanosail-D satellite will be visible from now and for the next few months. To see it you will need to know exactly when it will be visible from your location. To do this, go to heavens-above.com or spaceweather.com where star charts with times and pass details will be displayed after you enter your observing site.

Once you know the time and location in the sky of the pass of the satellite, make sure you are able to get a good view of the horizon, or part of the sky where the satellite due to appear. Give yourself plenty of time, go outside and get ready. I always set a 30 second reminder on my watch or cell phone, so I don’t have to fumble around or guess the time.

Unlike the ISS and most other satellites, Nanosail-D passes may only last a few, or a few tens of seconds, so make sure you are looking in the right place at the right time. You will see an amazingly bright star-like object rise up, get brighter and then suddenly disappear. When it “disappears” it is still passing over, it’s just no longer at the right angle or is no longer being illuminated by the sun. NanoSail-D has few reflective surfaces compared to many on the ISS.

To enjoy the Nanosail-D passes:

• Make sure you know the right place in the sky and the time of the pass, by checking on the web.
• Make sure you will be able to get a clear view of it from your viewing location.
• Set an alarm or get ready for the pass as it only lasts a few seconds.
• NASA expects NanoSail-D to stay in orbit until April or May 2011.
• If you are an astrophotographer, don’t forget, NASA and SpaceWeather.com are having an imaging contest of NanoSail-D. Find out more here.
• Most of all, get your friends and family outside with you to watch Nanosail-D and enjoy!

See NanoSail-D in Orbit, Win a Prize!

Looking for the orbiting NanoSail-D just got more exciting! NASA and Spaceweather.com have teamed up to offer prizes for the best amateur astronomy image of the now-orbiting and unfurled NanoSail-D solar sail. NanoSail-D unfurled the first 100-square-foot solar sail in low-Earth orbit on Jan. 20.

To encourage observations of NanoSail-D, Spaceweather.com is offering prizes for the best images of this historic, pioneering spacecraft in the amounts of $500 (grand prize), $300 (first prize) and $100
(second prize).

The contest is open to all types of images, including, but not limited to, telescopic captures of the sail to simple wide-field camera shots of solar sail flares. If NanoSail-D is in the field of view, the image is eligible for judging.

The solar sail is about the size of a large tent. It will be observable for approximately 70 to 120 days before it enters the atmosphere and disintegrates. The contest continues until NanoSail-D re-enters Earth’s atmosphere.

NanoSail-D will be a target of interest to both novice and veteran sky watchers. Experienced astrophotographers will want to take the first-ever telescopic pictures of a solar sail unfurled in space.
Backyard stargazers, meanwhile, will marvel at the solar sail flares — brief but intense flashes of light caused by sunlight glinting harmlessly from the surface of the sail.

NanoSail-D could be five to 10 times as bright as the planet Venus, especially later in the mission when the sail descends to lower orbits. The NanoSail-D satellite was jointly designed and built by NASA engineers from the agency’s Marshall Space Flight Center in Huntsville, Ala., and NASA’s Ames Research Center in Moffett Field, Calif.

To learn more about the NanoSail-D imaging challenge and contest rules, satellite tracking predictions and sighting times, visit this page about NanoSail-D. (not much info there yet as I write this….)

or see the NanoSail-D website for more info about the solar sail mission.

Success! NanoSail-D Deploys

We have a solar sail! As we reported on the 19th, the little cubesat that was thought to be lost has now been found, and now today, Friday, Jan. 21, engineers at NASA’s Marshall Space Flight Center confirmed that the NanoSail-D deployed its 100-square-foot polymer solar sail in low-Earth orbit and is operating as planned. The sail actually deployed late on Jan. 20, and it was quite interesting to see how ham radio operators were helping the engineers monitor the critical beacons sent out by the spacecraft — with communications also being sent back and forth via Twitter. The video above is from Henk Hamoen (@PA3GUO on Twitter) who operates a ham radio station in the Netherlands. The NanoSail-D sends an beacon packet every 10 seconds, which contains data about the spacecraft systems operation, and Hamoen and others were able to help make sure things were going as planned.

Continue reading “Success! NanoSail-D Deploys”

It’s Alive! NanoSail-D Suddenly and Spontaneously Comes Back to Life

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A small solar sail that was thought to be a lost cause has “spontaneously” come back to life. The NanoSail-D — a NASA-designed solar sail cubesat that launched in December but suddenly went silent without confirmation of its deployment — unexpectedly ejected from its host satellite on Wednesday, Jan. 19 at 11:30 a.m. EST. Engineers at Marshall Space Flight Center confirmed that the NanoSail-D nanosatellite ejected from Fast Affordable Scientific and Technology Satellite, FASTSAT, when they looked at onboard FASTSAT telemetry. The ejection of NanoSail-D also has been confirmed by ground-based satellite tracking.

Now NASA is asking for help from ham radio operators to listen for the signal to verify NanoSail-D is operating. And knowing the status of the solar sail is time critical.

“This is great news for our team. We’re anxious to hear the beacon which tells us that NanoSail-D is healthy and operating as planned,” said Dean Alhorn, NanoSail-D principal investigator and aerospace engineer at the Marshall Center. “The science team is hopeful to see that NanoSail-D is operational and will be able to unfurl its solar sail.”

If you are a ham operator, This information should be sent to the NanoSail-D dashboard at: http://nanosaild.engr.scu.edu/dashboard.htm. The NanoSail-D beacon signal can be found at 437.270 MHz. You can learn more at the MSFC’s Ham Radio Operator’s webpage.

NanoSail-D was designed to test the potential for solar sails in atmospheric braking. On December 6, 2010, it was schedule to eject from the FASTSAT, and initially it looked as though it did. But later, ground controllers were unable to confirm if the solar sail had ejected or deployed. Further analysis showed no evidence of NanoSail-D in low-Earth orbit, leading the team to believe NanoSail-D remained inside FASTSAT.

Now, with this latest news that the loaf-of-bread-sized satellite has ejected on its own, the NanoSail-D science team is hopeful the nanosatellite is healthy and can complete its solar sail mission. But the sequence of events are time critical.

After ejection, a timer within NanoSail-D begins a three-day countdown as the satellite orbits the Earth. Once the timer reaches zero, four booms will quickly deploy and the NanoSail-D sail will start to unfold to a 100-square-foot polymer sail. Within five seconds the sail fully unfurls.

“We knew that the door opened and it was possible that NanoSail-D could eject on its own,” said Mark Boudreaux, FASTSAT project manager at the Marshall Center. “What a pleasant surprise this morning when our flight operations team confirmed that NanoSail-D is now a free flyer.”

If the deployment is successful, NanoSail-D will stay in low-Earth orbit between 70 and 120 days, depending on atmospheric conditions. NanoSail-D is designed to demonstrate deployment of a compact solar sail boom system that could lead to further development of this alternative solar sail propulsion technology and FASTSAT’s ability to eject a nano-satellite from a micro-satellite — while avoiding re-contact with the FASTSAT satellite bus.

Source: Marshall Space Flight Center

Nanosail-D Update: Things Look Grim

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We reported the successful ejection of the Nanosail-D nanosatellite from the satellite that it was launched with earlier this week. Well, the most recent release from NASA states that things might have turned out otherwise. Not only has the sail potentially failed to deploy, it’s currently unclear if the nanosatellite was even ejected.

In NASA’s own words on the mission site:

At this time, it is not clear that NanoSail-D ejected from the Fast, Affordable, Science and Technology Satellite (FASTSAT) as originally stated on Monday, Dec. 6. At the time of ejection, spacecraft telemetry data showed a positive ejection as reflected by confirmation of several of the planned on orbit ejection sequence events. The FASTSAT spacecraft ejection system data was also indicative of an ejection event. NanoSail-D was scheduled to unfurl on Dec. 9 at 12:30 a.m., and deployment hasn’t been confirmed. The FASTSAT team is continuing to trouble shoot the inability to make contact with NanoSail-D. The FASTSAT microsatellite and all remaining five onboard experiments continue to operate as planned.

What a bummer. This is all we have to go on right now – we’ll keep you posted as the situation develops over the weekend.

Source: NASA press release